New Beginnings and Happy Endings

This is a true story about a boy who has no shame. At least not anymore. It is a story of tragedy, triumph, foul balls and solid contact, new beginnings and happy endings.
My wife and I have been married for 6.75 years. It has been the best 6.75 years of my life. In that time we have managed to find new ways to love one another. We've thoroughly enjoyed marriage and each other.

Somewhere around year 4 or 4.5, we decided that growing our family would be a good idea. We wanted to have a baby.

Sarah stopped taking the pill. That was supposed to be it, right? Girl doesn't take pill. Boy plays Marvin Gaye on the iPod. Girl and Boy become parents. I'd seen it a million times, on After School Specials and what not. Marvin Gaye never fails. Well, almost never.

We wore Marvin Gaye out. And then Maxwell. And then Barry White. Nothing. Nothing. And nothing.

So, we did what any normal couple does when Marvin, Maxwell and Barry aren't working. We turned to Gentry.

Doctor Gentry.

Dr. Gentry is a fertility specialist and one of the happiest-go-lucky people one could ever hope to meet. Every time he came into one of the examining rooms he would deliver this line in the most Mayberry sort of way, "You're doin' good I hope and pray."

Dr. Gentry's diagnosis was quick. While I can't remember the exact name he used, he basically said Sarah's (_____) gland which produces estrogen, which in-turn produces eggs, was not working as it should. While he quickly diagnosed her, his attention turned to me. He wanted to be double sure that my little alfalfa sprouts were in good shape. So, began my love affair with the little plastic cup.

Up to that point, I had never produced a "sample." I had no idea what to expect. I must admit, I I thought I would walk into room with low light, walls made of dark wood and a leather couch. What I walked into was quite different.

I arrived at the medical center and checked in with the other dozens of people. One by one nurses came and called the other patients in. My name was called. But, not from the same place everyone else's was called. Mine came from a side door. A super secret side door. I accompanied this nice lab tech up stairs and into her office to sign some paper work. The lab tech was nice enough, but she had this slight grin as if to say, "I know what you're about to do." With paper work all done, she escorted me down the hall and to a door. It said "Library" on the door. Just as I thought, the library is sure to have leather couches. Alas, the door opens. I couldn't have been more disappointed.

Imagine any hospital bathroom you've ever been in: Flourescent lighting, wallpapered walls and a toilet. That was it. The only exceptions were a metal cabinet and chair. The metal cabinet contained gently used "visual aids" and the chair was to make myself comfortable. The lab tech left the room but not before giving me some basic instructions and a questionnaire. Yes, a questionnaire.

Upon completion, I got to walk my sample down to the lab where I handed it to another Lab Tech. Hi, I'm Ryan and here is my semen.

I was delighted to know the sample was all good.

Dr. Gentry decided we'd do artificial insemination. This meant Sarah would have to give herself a shot every day for a week or so. Every other day, while she was getting shots, she'd have to go into the doctor's office and have blood taken as well as an ultrasound to monitor egg production. This also meant I'd get to produce more "samples." Music to my ears.

Now let me be clear, I'm not in any way saying that my semi-public masturbation even approaches the discomfort, pain, and rigors that accompany Sarah's part of the bargain. There is no doubt about it, Sarah gets the short end of the stick. Which leaves me with the long...never mind.

So, for those of you who don't know what artificial insemination is, it goes like this:
  1. I go in the Dr. Gentry's office and sit in a waiting room full of other men waiting to become intimate with a little plastic cup and never making eye contact with one another.
  2. I do my best to perform under immense pressure.
  3. I leave while greeted with a waiting room full of couples with half-grins on their faces.
  4. Meet Sarah at Starbucks. Meanwhile, our fertility nurse, Joyce, cleans the sperm. This creates a sperm concentrate of sorts.
  5. Sarah lays on an examining table, feet in stirrups and Joyce injects the sperm concentrate into the cervix using a long syringe. Think half syringe/half turkey baster.
  6. Sarah continues to lay on the table for 30 minutes.
  7. We wait and watch the timer. The minute hand on the timer was a sperm, by the way.

Round 1 – Swing and a miss
This first time around, I administered all of Sarah's shots. Did I mention all of her shots have to go into the abdomen? Yeah, I can't think of a worse place to get a shot. You can see the thing coming the whole time. Suddenly, God's design for procreation, which has always been understood as a thoroughly enjoyable act, had turned to a series of needle pricks, vaginal probes and semi-public masturbation.

I'll never forget the first time Sarah was about to be inseminated, Joyce says, "Ryan, hold Sarah's hand. We've got to keep the romance in this."

Joyce also would say before she left the room, "You guys can have intercourse as much as you want now." This was great, now every time I got the "urge", which is quite often, I could cite DOCTOR'S ORDERS!

Unfortunately, no pregnancy. At the debriefing with Dr. Gentry he told us the success rate for this procedure is 25%. We swung and missed, but we had 3 more chances to meet the average.

Round 2 – Strike two
Second verse same as the first. In spite of our best efforts, it wasn't good enough. We were down, but certainly not out. We did have two strikes and the added pressure of living up to the 25% success rate.

Round 3 – Foul ball (still strike two)
The third time was quite similar to the previous two tries. A primary difference was, Sarah took me off of shot duty. She decided she'd prefer her fate be in her own hands. Besides, it was more fun for me to just watch. Each shot she'd need a dozen warm-up stabs in which her head and arm would bob in sync until she mustered the courage to stick herself. I should clarify, it was fun to watch her bob...not fun to watch her stick, shoot and tear up.

Another difference was that I had to attend all of her early morning appointments. It was hard at first, and I belly-ached. But, hey, we're in this together.

I also recall that when it was time for my contribution, there was a giant snow storm. So, I went to the doctor with about 12 layers of clothing and snow boots. If ever the odds were against me doing my part, it is trying to get "in the mood" while in a sterile bathroom with questionnaire and snow boots.

The biggest difference was this time we miscarried. It was devastating news. We took the weekend to grieve. My way of dealing with it was the hope of trying again. Sarah, couldn't move on so easily. It is her body.

At our usual follow-up appointment with Dr. Gentry, he was his usual chipper self. He said, "I'm sorry to hear about the miscarriage. But, hey we made contact, it was just a foul ball...that's all." I can't say I was comforted.

Round 4 – Foul Ball (still strike 2...hanging around)
The fourth time was much like the third, except the pregnancy went on a bit longer this time, making the miscarriage all the more devastating.

My only consolation was that the nurses always commented on how great my sperm was. I don't know why, but I can't help but puff up my chest every time I think of them commenting on my sperm. It's a weird thing to take pride in. But, a small consolation it was.

We were discouraged.

Round 5 – Foul ball (staying alive)
They say you can't strike out on a foul ball. But, this time felt a lot like a trip to the bench. We suffered our 3rd consecutive miscarriage. Again, I wanted to try again right away to deflect my pain. Sarah, and her body were not ready. This miscarriage happened further along than the other two. We found out on an ultrasound, when we saw no heartbeat.

Words can't describe the awkwardness when a Doctor is still trying to remain positive, when the picture we were looking at was so profoundly negative. The ultrasound tech seemed to be looking for a super secret exit from that room.

Round 6 – Sitting on the bench
Sarah needed a break. And I think I did too. We went to Europe and just loved one another. It was perfect. I think all the trials we'd been through in the previous months galvanized our relationship. In many ways, the wonderful time we had was manifestation of how we clung together in that time.

Round 7 – Still rounding the bases
Dr. Gentry decided to try something a little different. He switched up the shots prior to fertilization and put Sarah on Heprin (a blood thinner). Whatever he did, and we did ... worked. Sarah became pregnant once again.

It's sad, but Sarah and I have never had the "Pregnancy Test Commercial Moment." After so many miscarriages a positive test means, "oh shit, here we go again."

This time, rather than keep the news to ourselves, we decided to share the news with a few friends and family so they could pray with us. We needed support, if we were going to do this again. There was one Thursday night I got with some of my "guy friends." After hours mustering the courage, I asked them to pray for me. Steve, a great friend and mentor, suggested we prostrate on the ground as an act of submission to God. For me, it was a gesture of desperation...a gesture of, "I have no more strength to get through this myself, let alone be the support Sarah needs me to be." We prayed. Everyone prayed.

It worked. We saw a heartbeat on week 7, 8, and 9. The milestone of week 12 gestation has come and gone. I'm wrapping up this blog on week 15. So far, so good.

If you haven't processed it, yet. Let me put it plainly. Ryan Noel is going to be a father.

*giving you a moment to wrap your brain around that concept...as frightening as that may be for some of you to consider*

So, yeah...this is my very long winded way of shouting from the virtual mountaintops: Ryan and Sarah Noel are having a baby.